By Julie Shields
Sunday, June 15, 2003
Many men today are taking better care of the kids and the house. That makes them the perfect people to honor this Father's Day, a holiday which originally honored a 1920s father who ably raised six children on his own.
(WOMENSENEWS)--Now is the perfect time to go back to the roots of Father's Day in the United States and celebrate and support what is called "involved fatherhood."
Few know that Father's Day in this country arose out of a daughter's desire to honor her father, a widowed single Dad who raised six children--including a
newborn--on a Spokane, Wash., farm. Sonora Smart Dodd, so the story goes, heard a Mother's Day sermon in 1909 and wondered why fathers like hers were not similarly celebrated. In 1910, Dodd organized the first such celebration in Spokane on June 19, a date she chose because her father was born in June. Dodd believed her father courageous and strong because he made sacrifices and behaved selflessly while she and her siblings grew up.
In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge advocated for a national father's day to help establish better relations between fathers and children and to remind fathers of their responsibilities. In 1966, Lyndon Johnson proclaimed the third Sunday in June a national holiday, making it official.
This Father's Day, we should support fathers who have followed in the footsteps of William Jackson Smart, Dodd's father. We sit on top of what could be a watershed moment in fatherhood. All kinds of evidence document a zeitgeist shift for modern fathers. The recession and altered views about men, women and work bring us to a point where real economic and family change can occur--and has occurred--quickly.
Feminists, economists, legal thinkers, and practical folk everywhere have long recognized that women will never achieve equality outside of the home until men become equal partners inside the domestic sphere. On average, U.S. women earn 78 cents for every dollar earned by U.S. men. The gender wage gap occurs in part because of the disproportionate family, child rearing, and household responsibilities that mothers bear. Current statistics indicate that, until they have children, women earn roughly the same as men. Often, as women's family involvement intensifies, mothers' work-force participation--and income--diminishes or ends altogether. Many argue that the glass ceiling is in the nursery.
Last month, Newsweek magazine's cover story, "She Works, He Doesn't," reported on a new trend. More men, it reported, are staying home or cutting back at work to attend to family responsibilities. That's because 30.7 percent of married working mothers now earn more money than their husbands do, up from 24 percent just a few years ago, the magazine reported. Eleven percent of marriages now feature "alpha-earner wives," women who earn more than 60 percent of the family income.
Hollywood is trying to catch this wave as well. The plot of the new Eddie Murphy comedy "Daddy Day Care," centers on laid-off marketing-executive fathers banding together to create a family day-care home while their alpha-earner wives worked. The last time Hollywood tried a similar story line, 20 years ago in "Mr. Mom," Michael Keaton, another laid-off executive, was far less competent than Murphy and his pals. Keaton's dinner-burning, poker-playing character would never have stretched his imagination beyond taking care of his own kids.
A husband at home and a wife at work was going far enough for conventional gender role swapping in 1983. At the end of the movie, Keaton's character goes back to work and his wife quits her job because they prefer a more traditional arrangement.
Two decades later, a lasting stay-at-home father arrangement is not unusual. In the decade between 1990 and 2000, the number of families with stay-at-home fathers and working mothers rose by 70 percent. Nearly 2 million couples have reversed roles. The number of at-home fathers last spiked during the recession of 1992. When fathers get downsized, as is happening now, mothers often help shoulder more of the financial load and fathers often take on more work inside the home.
In addition to changing conventions about who nurtures the children and who earns the money, lines and attitudes have blurred for other family situations. Countless studies show that men, particularly in dual-income households, shoulder more child care and household chores than they used to. For example, in 1998, the Families and Work Institute, a New York research and policy center, reported that men put in 75 percent of the time women did on workday chores, versus 30 percent in 1977.
Finally, in the post-September-11 world, many men have rethought the assumption that one can find no greater reward or success than climbing the corporate ladder. Given the economic, cultural, and ideological climate, more U.S. fathers are poised to become more like Sonora Dodd's father; selfless, sacrificing and hands-on.
Julie Shields, an attorney and writer in McLean, Va., is the author of "How to Avoid the Mommy Trap: A Roadmap for Sharing Parenting and Making It Work."
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